Under the Hood

There are many problems that loom over publishers these days. Among the loomiest—and most familiar—are these two:

How do we talk directly to readers?
How do we show that we matter?

I have a suggestion that might help answer both of these questions: allow the public to see more of what we do.

Not allow them to do what we do: this is not crowdsourcing, in fact it’s the exact opposite. It’s about presenting ourselves as experts.

Of course I’m not proposing that we lay open everything we do to the gaze of Johnny Public. Some of it’s too secret. Some is inappropriate. Some of it is too dull. Some of it’s all three.

What’s much more typical is a brand new author or book which you have to launch from nothing, and frankly anything that gets the public engaged with it is worth considering.

So how would this work, practically? Penguin do creative transparency very well. Their website features lots of excellent videos of designers talking about how they made their covers, along with editors, copywriters (or “blurbistes”) and others.

My favourite is Coralie Bickford Smith, above, talking about designing the gothic horror novels in the Red Classics series. It eschews slickness in favour of wit and honesty, and is very, very charming as a result. And it makes you want to own those books. It dramatises the creative process, shows you what care and cleverness went into it. So it helps you realise that the books are worth buying, at a premium price.

This post originally appeared on The Bookseller’s blog here, and formed the basis of a presentation given at The Bookseller’s Design & Marketing Conference on June 21st 2012.

Other great “behind the scenes” videos:

James Spackman works in high street and online sales for Hodder & Stoughton, having combined sales and marketing for most of his career. He is particularly interested in the role of copy in publishing, and strategies for direct communication with readers.

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